Once solid Negros public transport splinters further, ex-comrades now on either side of the line

First of two parts

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BACOLOD CITY – There used to be an epoch when talk of an untat biyahe (Hiligaynon for transport strike) would strike fear in the hearts of the powers that-be. Or the ruling clique of the “landlord, comprador, bureaucrat capitalist rulers who are lackeys of US imperialism” as Joma Sison and his fanatics would call them.

In the later part of the Marcos martial rule, the untat biyahe was one of the key components of a welgang bayan or WeBa, a people’s strike. The WeBa was supposed to be an expression of what the then outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines dreamed as a “united front” that would topple Marcos and, eventually, establish a socialist nation.

The CPP, which claims to be led by the proletariat or those from other classes who were “proletarianized” cannot even paralyze the local economy through workers unions. It was the “semi-proletarians,” the semi-employed drivers who can do so when they stop plying their routes, one ex CPP cadre who became a “rejectionist” in the late 90s said.

A police car roams the almost empty city streets on May 16, 2011 during one of the successful strikes led by UNDOC related to oil price hikes. | File photo by Julius D. Mariveles
A police car roams the almost empty city streets on May 16, 2011 during one of the successful strikes led by UNDOC related to oil price hikes. | File photo by Julius D. Mariveles

“Particular attention was given to organizing drivers,” a former Communist cadre deployed to do urban work for the Alliance and Mass Movement Committee or AMMCO told DNX.

It was AMMCO, the forerunner of the post-split Regional Urban White Area Committee or RUWAC, that “coordinated” urban activities in the late 70s to the 80s until the anti-DPA hysteria reached Negros.

The urban formations of the CPP were “formidable, no doubt about that,” an ex-Marine formerly tasked to do counter-intelligence work said.

This story is not about the links between legal organizations and the underground. Distinctions still have to be made between the two.

Rather, this is an attempt to trace events involving the urban Left or the “legal” Left as some of its members prefer to be referred to.

UNDOC to SSTON to UNETCO

Today’s transport strike is led by the United Negros Drivers and Operators Center or UNDOC, a decades-old organization of drivers now chaired by Diego Malacad, a former security guard who later became a tricycle driver.

Supporting UNDOC are the Sentrong Samahan ng Tsuper at Operators Nationwide or SSTON and the Federation of Bacolod City Drivers Associations.

FEBACDA is headed by Elizabeth Katalbas, a “conservative” to Leftists but a transport leader who commanded a substantial following, nonetheless. FEBACDA had not always joined UNDOC in its transport strikes.

Araneta Street, morning peak hours, May 16, 2011 during a transport strike. | File photo by Julius D. Mariveles
Araneta Street, morning peak hours, May 16, 2011 during a transport strike. | File photo by Julius D. Mariveles

SSTON is a splinter of UNDOC in the late 90s. This came after what some former officers described to me as the “failure” to resolve “political, organizational and philosophical differences” between two sub groups – one headed by Malacad who wanted “revolutionary changes” inside UNDOC, the other by Ortega who represented the “degenerates.”

One of that was the perceived closeness of its then secretary general, Jessie Ortega, to Roy Yanson who was then president of Vallacar Transit, Inc. VTI owns Ceres Lines, the giant bus company based here.

Ortega was edged out by Malacad as UNDOC chairman. He bolted and formed SSTON along with a core of UNDOC originals like Nilo Frias, a First Quarter Storm activist, and leaders of transpot groups in major provincial and city routes.

DIEGO, JESSIE, MARCELO

Rommel “Bebot” Santillan was then chairman while Jessie Ortega was secretary general in the mid 90s.

Under President Estrada’s term, UNDOC and the activist alliance, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan)-Negros, spearheaded protest actions that included three-day transport strikes.

Diego first became an activist in the 90s as a member of the urban poor group Kaisahan and became the first Negros chairman of Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or Kadamay, the nationwide urban poor federation formed in the 90s during the term of then President Joseph Estrada.

WALL, WOMAN, WIDE EMPTY ROAD. Burgos Street, May 16, 2011. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles
WALL, WOMAN, WIDE EMPTY ROAD. Burgos Street, May 16, 2011. | Photo by Julius D. Mariveles

Among those who served as team leader during the strike, usually leading the rally center at the Magsaysay-Araneta juncture was Marcelo Ochia, now chairman of the United Negros Transport Cooperative (UNETCO).

Marce was then one of the leading figures of the YS or the youth sector as an officer of the Anakbayan, the then new “comprehensive” youth organization that was patterned after the underground Kabataang Makabayan.

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